Teacher Interviews – Teaching with the Experience of Travel with Abby Drake

One of my goals as a teacher blogger is to promote the voices of regular teachers. So many teachers are engaged in developing innovative and amazing new strategies for teaching Social Studies. They are advocates, they are inventive, and they are working with students on the front lines. Yet, their voices are often lost in the dialogue about our current education system. These experts in our field need to be promoted and recognized for their work. Each month, I’ll be publishing an interview with someone who’s taken on the task of teaching History. My hope is to promote teachers who deserve our attention.

I grew up in a suburb of Seattle and attended Linfield College in Oregon, where I graduated in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and a minor in French.  I did my teaching program at Western Washington University after that and began teaching full-time in 2002. I’ve taught in three different schools in the Seattle area, both public and private and at the middle and high school level.  I have taught students in every grade from 6-12! I currently teach World History, AP U.S. History, and electives in law and psychology at Holy Names Academy, the oldest continuously operating school in Washington State. It is a Catholic, all-girls school that also happens to be my alma mater!  It is an amazingly empowering place for both students and faculty, and I consider myself very fortunate to be here.

1. We became friends through an awesome online teaching community. One of the first things I noticed about you (besides our shared Hamilton obsession), was that you were traveling practically every break. What do you value about traveling?

I longed to travel from a young age; I wanted to be in the rooms where things happened!  I always had a fascination with history and other cultures, and the idea that I could one day see different places and meet diverse people from around the world really called to me.  I first had the opportunity to travel overseas in college, where I did a semester in Paris and two month-long travel courses in Europe and Bolivia. Aside from getting the opportunity to experience other cultures and see amazing sites, I really love the organization and planning of trips and the sense of confidence and independence I get from it.  Finally, every day on a trip is long and full, so I’ve always felt that travel is a great way to make the most of life.

2. What are your favorite historical travel memories?

It’s really hard to narrow it down, but here are a few in no particular order

  • Vasa Museum, Stockholm–I arrived the museum first thing in the morning, so I was nearly alone with the hulking, nearly intact ship that sunk in 1628 and was salvaged and restored in the 1960s.  It’s an incredibly unique museum and probably the closest I’ve ever felt to actually experiencing a time machine.
  • Ephesus, Turkey–This was the most interesting and exciting ancient site I’ve seen, with an amazing tour guide and a wonderful group of other teachers. I took many adorable pictures of stray Turkish cats lounging on ancient pillars, which turned into the source of one of the most creative lessons I ever put together for my 6th graders, and thinking about all the people, from St. Paul to Cleopatra, who had been there, was really amazing.  It was also followed up by a home-cooked Turkish feast, which may be the best meal I’ve eaten in my entire life.
  • Seeing Hamilton at the Public–As a lifelong fan of musicals and an admirer of Alexander Hamilton since high school, this was truly “made for me”, so I bought a ticket to fly out for a 30-hour trip to New York in April, 2015.  I’ve seen the show several times since, but seeing in that small theater, before it blew up to the giant hit it is today, is one of the greatest memories of my life.
  • Visiting Eyethorne with my dad–Eyethorne is a tiny blip on the road between Canterbury and Dover, and it’s where my ancestors lived in England before coming to the United States.  Going there with my dad on his first trip to Europe and getting a tour from a local (a friend of a distant cousin) was so fun and I know it meant a lot to my dad. I was really happy to share that with him.  
  • Honorable mentions include the Hagia Sofia, Pantheon, Westminster Abbey, Terracotta Warriors, Korean DMZ tour, and Tower of London.

3. Were there any historical events that were made much more compelling with a first-person point of view?

There have been many.  A few that stand out were seeing the memorials to the killing fields in Cambodia, the vast scale of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and the powerful monument to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  I almost always appreciate an event’s significance more profoundly when I can see it up close.  However, I do also have one memory of an event becoming less compelling upon viewing it.  In Quebec, I saw the Plains of Abraham, the site of the last major battle in the French-Indian War.  “Plains of Abraham” sounds epic and Biblical, but is actually basically just some guy named Abraham’s yard.  It was a little underwhelming!

4. How have you shared your travels with your students?

I incorporate lots of pictures into my PowerPoint presentations.  I also tell stories or share insights about a place or culture as it comes up in the curriculum.  And I tell them when they are older they should add certain places to their bucket lists. On occasion, students have actually asked for my advice as their family plans a trip, which has been really fun!  However, I also try to be mindful that many students don’t have the same opportunities as others, so it’s a bit of a balancing act. I never got to travel until college, so I sometimes tell my students that if they seem sad or jealous that they haven’t been able to travel much yet.  

5. How do you think travel has changed you as a teacher?

My love of history, travel, and teaching is all wrapped up together, so it’s hard to distinguish cause and effect.  Teaching about certain topics has definitely motivated me to visit places I might not have been interested in before.  The most notable example of that is China. I didn’t study much Asian history in college, but when I was assigned to teach a course that focused heavily on China I absolutely fell in love with it.  My two trips there have both been profoundly impactful and memorable, including my school’s first ever student trip to China, which I organized in June 2017.

6. There’s a lot of talk lately about teachers taking time to care for themselves. Do you think your travel has helped to make you a better teacher?

Absolutely!  Travel is exhausting, but it’s also how I renew myself on breaks and over the summer.  It’s the source of much of my inspiration, both at a professional and personal level.

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